Freedom of Information Act Processing Guidelines
This Reference Guide is designed to explain how to request GIPSA records and the procedures GIPSA uses to respond to requests for records.
Like other Federal agencies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), generally, is required under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to disclose records to any person who requests them. However, GIPSA may withhold the records pursuant to nine exemptions and three exclusions contained in the statute. The FOIA applies only to Federal agencies records and does not create a right of access to records held by Congress, the courts, or by State or local government agencies. Each state has its own public access laws; therefore, please contact the appropriate State office to seek access to their records.
Records Available Without Submitting a FOIA Request
Many GIPSA records such as press releases, speeches, consumer and technical publications, statistical data, congressional testimony, some letters and memoranda are available to the public at our web site without submitting a FOIA request.
The Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996 (referred to as E-FOIA) makes it possible for you to electronically access information such as GIPSA's Final Opinions and Orders, Administrative Staff Manuals, frequent FOIA requests, FOIA annual reports, and an archive of requests logs. These documents can be accessed at GIPSA's FOIA Reading Room.
FOIA Contact Information
GIPSA's FOIA office, which is located in Washington, D.C., processes all requests for GIPSA records. Please submit requests to R.Dexter.Thomas@usda.gov.
GIPSA is committed to providing exceptional customer service when responding to FOIA requests. Government-wide policy requires that Federal agencies have FOIA Requester Service Centers and FOIA Public Liaisons to ensure appropriate communications with FOIA requesters. Requesters can contact GIPSA's FOIA Service Center to seek information concerning the status of a request and information about the Agency's FOIA response. Requesters also can contact GIPSA's FOIA Public Liaison to raise concerns about the service received from the FOIA Service Center.
How to Request Records under the FOIA
mail, fax, or email. Please specify the records you are seeking in as much detail as possible; and indicate on your correspondence "Freedom of Information Act Request" to ensure a timely response. Please be sure to provide your telephone number; mailing address; and an email address and fax number, if available; so that GIPSA may contact you if necessary. You may only seek records that are in existence at the time the FOIA request is received, and you may not require that new records be created in response to the request. As a general rule, you are not required to state the reasons why you are making the request, buy you may if you think it might help GIPSA locate the records.
You may request records or information about yourself. To protect your privacy, you will be asked to provide either a notarized statement or a statement signed under penalty of perjury stating that you are the person who you claim to be. If you request information about yourself and do not follow one of these procedures, your request cannot be processed. This requirement helps to ensure that private information about you will not be disclosed to anyone else.
Under certain circumstances, you may be entitled to receive more information under the Privacy Act (a separate federal statute) than under the FOIA. Under the FOIA, anyone can request an Agency record. Privacy Act requests are more limited and can be made only by U.S. citizens or aliens lawfully admitted for permanent U.S. residence who are seeking information about themselves. Even if a request does not mention the Privacy Act, GIPSA will automatically treat requests as being made under both the FOIA and the Privacy Act whenever it is appropriate to do so. In this way, requesters receive the maximum amount of information available to them by law.
Under certain conditions, you may be entitled to have your request processed on an expedited basis. However, you should realize that whenever a FOIA request is expedited for a particular requester, it results in an additional delay for previous requesters who have been waiting for a response. Therefore, to treat all requesters equitably, GIPSA ordinarily will process a FOIA request ahead of others only in cases in which there is a threat to someone's life or physical safety, or where an individual will suffer the loss of substantial due process rights if the records are not processed on an expedited basis.
The FOIA also requires that requests be processed on an expedited basis if made by a person primarily engaged in disseminating information to the public and the information is urgently needed to inform the public concerning some actual or alleged government activity. Requests are not expedited under this provision merely because the requester is a representative of the news media.
A request for expedited processing must be accompanied by a statement setting forth the reasons why your request should be expedited. You should certify that the reasons you have given are true and correct. GIPSA is required to notify you of its decision whether to grant expedited processing within no more than 10 days after receiving your letter. If GIPSA denies your request for expedited processing, you will be advised of your right to submit an administrative appeal of that denial.
GIPSA's Initial Request Determination
GIPSA will notify you of its determination on your request within 20 workdays (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and Federal holidays) of receipt; however, we may extend this period by 10 additional workdays under certain situations with written notice to the requester when: (1) the agency needs to collect responsive records from field offices; (2) the request involves a "voluminous" amount of records which must be located, compiled, and reviewed; or (3) the agency must consult with another agency which has a substantial interest in the responsive material. GIPSA will notify you when such a time extension is needed to offer you the opportunity to modify or limit your request.
GIPSA's response will explain the release determination; and if your request for records is denied in whole or in part due to information that has been determined to be exempt from disclosure, the response will include the reason(s) for denial, the name and title of the person responsible for the denial, your right to appeal to the GIPSA Administrator within 45 days, and the procedures to follow when filing your appeal.
Federal agencies may refuse to disclose an agency record that falls within any of the following statutory exemptions:
|Exemption 1||Classified documents|
|Exemption 2||Internal personnel rules and practices of an agency|
|Exemption 3||Information exempt under other laws|
|Exemption 4||Confidential business information|
|Exemption 5||Internal government communications|
|Exemption 6||Personal privacy|
|Exemption 7||Law enforcement|
|Exemption 8||Financial institutions|
|Exemption 9||Geological information|
There is no initial fee to file a FOIA request, however, the FOIA permits agencies to charge requestors fees to recover the direct costs of providing information to a requester. The FOIA requires that requesters be placed in one of the following four categories to determine how fees will be assessed:
|Categories of Requesters||Defined as:||Charged for:|
|1. Commercial-use||One who seeks information for a use or purpose that furthers the commercial, trade, or profit interests of the requester of the person on whose behalf the request is made||Full direct costs of searching for, reviewing for release, and duplicating the records sought.|
|2. Educational and non-commercial scientific institution||Public or private elementary or secondary schools; an institution of higher or vocational education; or institution that conducts scientific research the results of which are not intended to promote any particular product or industry.||No charge for search and review; cost of duplication services minus the charge for the first 100 reproduced pages|
|3. Representatives of the news media||Any person actively gathering news for an entity that is organized and operated to publish or broadcast news to the public||No charge for search and review; cost of duplication services minus the charge for the first 100 reproduced pages|
|4. All other requesters||Those who do not fit in any of the above categories||Full direct costs of searching for and duplicating records. No charge for first 100 duplicated pages|
USDA's regulations at 7 CFR Part 1, Subpart A provide a comprehensive description of FOIA charges. The fees and charges can be found online.
GIPSA's fee schedule for the most common FOIA services follows:
|Record search (manual and electronic)||Salary rate of employee + 16 percent|
|Record review for release determination||Salary rate of employee + 16 percent|
|Record duplication||$.20 per page|
GIPSA will not charge a fee if the total processing cost is under $25. The FOIA does permit agencies to require a requester to pay fees in advance if it is estimated that the cost will exceed $250.
If you expect or are advised that a fee will be charged, you may request a waiver of those fees. However, fee waivers are limited to situations in which a requester can show that the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to the public's understanding of the operations and activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester. Requests for fee waivers from individuals who are seeking records on themselves usually are denied under this standard because such disclosures usually will not result in any increase of the public's understanding of government operations and activities. In addition, a requester's inability to pay fees is not a legal basis for granting a fee waiver.
You may request a waiver of fees, but must provide GIPSA a written explanation fully documenting and justifying why you believe a waiver is warranted.
Filing a FOIA Appeal
You may appeal GIPSA's initial FOIA determination in writing. Please include a copy of the original request, copies of any response letters, and the basis for your appeal. Note the words "FOIA APPEAL" in capital letters on the front of the envelope and address it as follows:
USDA, Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., STOP 3601
Washington, D.C. 20250-3601
The FOIA provides agencies 20 workdays (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and Federal holidays) to respond to appeals; and under certain situations, allows an additional 10 workday extension. USDA regulations require that all final appeal responses be reviewed by the Department's Office of the General Counsel (OGC) for legal sufficiency. OGC handles appeal reviews on a first-in/first-out basis. GIPSA will forward the requester his/her response to the appeal as soon as OGC completes its review.
GIPSA will inform you of your right for a judicial review in federal courts should GIPSA's administrative appeal decision uphold the denial of your request. Our appeal response will inform you of your right to file a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court where you live, where you have your principal place of business, where the documents are kept, or in the District of Columbia.
The Privacy Act
The Privacy Act, passed by Congress in 1974, establishes certain controls over what personal information the Federal Government collects and how the information is used. The statute applies only to records about individuals maintained by Federal Government agencies, and only if the records are in a "system of records," which means they are retrieved by an individual's name, social security number, or some other personal identifier. The Privacy Act also permits an individual to gain access to most personal information maintained by Federal agencies and to request amendments to his/her records.
How to Request Information under the Privacy Act
GIPSA accepts requests for records under the Privacy Act by mail, fax, or email. You may submit your request to R.Dexter.Thomas@usda.gov. Please be sure you indicate clearly on your correspondence "Privacy Act Request" to ensure timely response. If the records requested are to be disclosed to any person other than you, we require your written consent authorizing GIPSA to release the records to that person. Records maintained on individuals will be released unless they are exempt from disclosure, in accordance with the Privacy Act and/or the Freedom of Information Act.
The Privacy Act allows requestors to be charged only for the cost of copying records for you, not for the time spent locating them. Federal agencies are not required to reply to a Privacy Act request within a given period of time; however, GIPSA policy is to acknowledge receipt of the request within 10 days and to provide the requested records within 30 days.